As our hot, stuffy plane approached Bodrum, the seaside resort city on Turkey’s southwest coast, I closed my eyes and imagined a cool plunge into the crystalline turquoise waters of the Aegean. It was late July, and I was going home for vacation, despite warnings about the record heat. Southern Turkey is always hot in the summer, but the thought of sea breezes and swimming made it seem a desirable destination — especially after spending the last month in a heat wave in Geneva where air-conditioning is all but banned.
But when the plane door opened at Milas Bodrum Airport and I was hit by the instant scorch of a 113-degree Fahrenheit wind, I knew this summer would be different. My 1-year-old immediately started crying and other passengers gasped as they rushed to the bus that would take us to the terminal.
We weren’t the only ones feeling the heat.
“I can’t say we had a real vacation. We just melted, it was brutal,” said Cem Tosunoglu, a 28-year-old computer engineer from Istanbul. A week earlier, he had cut short a luxury sailboat cruise around Bodrum’s secluded bays because of the excessive heat and the unexpected onslaught of vicious biting horse flies, which thrive in hot environments.
“There was nowhere to escape, we were under attack and had no choice but to go back to the A.C. in our villas,” he said. “Even the seawater was too warm.”
It is the summer of Europe’s tourism rebound, with travelers flocking to the continent in large numbers after three years of pandemic restrictions, despite high airfares and limited accommodations. But the excessive and prolonged heat — which reached 118 degrees Fahrenheit in southern Europe in July — along with wildfires that caused areas to be evacuated in Greece, Italy and Spain, has been ruining vacations.
In recent years, Europe has been experiencing persistent heat waves with the record hitting 119.8 degrees in Sicily on Aug. 11, 2021, according to the World Meteorological Organization, which said the record could be broken this summer as the heat is expected to intensify.
Siestas and portable fans
In mid-July, tourists waiting in line at the Acropolis in Athens collapsed from heat exhaustion, forcing the city’s top attraction to close in the afternoons until the cooler evening hours. Visitors to the Colosseum in Rome fainted while waiting in line. On the Italian island of Sardinia, a man had to be airlifted off a beach after losing consciousness, according to the local newspaper La Nuova Sardegna.
“I’m telling my clients to adapt their itineraries and take advantage of the after-lunch siesta and then push their tours to later in the day when it’s cooler,” said Sarah Johnson, who owns Paper Ink & Passports Travel, a luxury travel company based in Pennsylvania. “There’s a reason they’ve been doing it in Spain and Italy for generations. Walking around in the midday heat and waiting in line could really hurt some people.”
One of her clients, Scott Maxwell, a 52-year-old account manager for the health insurer Kaiser Permanente, traveled to Italy from Los Angeles in the middle of the heat wave in July and ended up spending most of his vacation in the villa he and his family rented about 30 minutes outside of Rome. The group, which included his in-laws — both in their 70s — had booked several walking tours in Rome and a trip to Florence, but decided to cancel them because of the scorching heat, which was over 100 degrees throughout their trip.
“I didn’t even make it into Rome because there was absolutely no breeze. It was brutal,” Mr. Maxwell said. His wife, Hillary, braved the heat and went into the city with her father for the catacombs tour. “It was really enjoyable, but mainly because it was underground,” she said.
The air-conditioning in the villa was patchy and didn’t work in all the rooms, but the family set up a living area in one of the cooler bedrooms and spent most of the afternoons indoors. In the cooler evening hours, they ventured out to the nearby medieval town of Sacrofono for dinner, but even then, they carried portable, battery-powered fans. “There were so many great restaurants, but it was still hot, and we sat there with our fans blowing on us, trying to get the sweat off our necks,” Mr. Maxwell recalled.
Ron Ross, 50, who works in technology sales, also visited Italy from Boston in July, traveling with his three teenage children. He worked with Joshua Smith, the founder of Global Citizen Journeys, who booked private tours and transfers that allowed his family to dodge some of the worst heat.
“The main thing was that we didn’t have to wait in line,” Mr. Ross said. “It made the whole experience a lot more palatable because we would get to the Colosseum or the Vatican and see endless lines of people waiting under the heat, but then we would go meet our private guy who took us in through a separate entrance.”
Most of the tours the Rosses went on were booked in the morning, allowing them some downtime in their air-conditioned hotel room during the hottest hours of the day. When the sun went down they headed out for dinner.
“The only place we really struggled because of the heat was in the city of Matera,” he said, referring to the rocky city, known as the “city of caves” in southern Italy. “It’s basically a hilltop with no grass and it was really hot walking around there in the day, it felt like we were baking on the stone like pizza,” he said.
Straight to the beach
When Tania Goodman, a 36-year-old accountant from London, saw news reports of ambulances taking tourists out of the Acropolis in Athens, she logged into Booking.com to cancel her hotel in the city center. But when she realized she would have to pay a 50 percent penalty, she and her boyfriend decided to stick with the booking, but skipped all the sights and went straight to the beach instead.
“We were there at the worst peak of the heat in late July, and I knew it was going to be bad, but it was suffocating heat, like it was actually painful to step outside,” she said.
The couple woke up early to take morning walks, but by the time they got back to their hotel for breakfast, it was too hot to sit on the terrace. “We basically stayed in our room for most of the day until around 6 p.m. when we went to the beach,” she said. “Even then it was boiling, like too-hot-to-drink-alcohol kind of hot. Thank god there was water, the swimming was the best part, the water was beautiful,” she added.
At the villa in Italy, Mr. Maxwell was grateful for the pool, where he spent up to eight hours each day for three days, using an umbrella for shade. He also made the most of the air conditioning in his rental car and drove his family to the nearby lake and towns where they would stop for an Aperol spritz.
“We did a lot of driving around, but I wouldn’t call it much adventuring,” he said.
The Maxwells later traveled down to the Amalfi coast, where the heat had subsided and they were looking forward to sailing in nearby bays. But when they arrived their boat tour had been canceled because of high winds that made the water too rough to sail.
Reflecting on his trip, Mr. Maxwell said he still enjoyed spending time with his family and not working. Asked if he would return to Europe, he said, “Not in July. Perhaps in the shoulder season.”
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